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Alanna Tuller | Archive Addict

Published: Monday, November 5, 2012

Updated: Monday, November 5, 2012 06:11

Oftentimes, I think of Tufts history as beginning in 1852, when the University was founded. However, Tufts’ tree history — treestory, if you will — began as early as the 1600s when the first colonists set foot in Massachusetts.

The hill currently occupied by Tufts University was once known as Walnut Tree Hill, home to a large walnut grove since time immemorial. After John Winthrop and his crew rolled into Medford in 1630, they began to use the hill as a cow pasture and for over a century, the trees’ sole purpose was to shade the animals during “their afternoon task of mastication,” as stated by one flowery historian I uncovered in the Archives.

During the Revolutionary War, however, the trees’ fates were placed in jeopardy. A few Hessian regiments who had fought with the British were captured, made prisoners of war and housed on Walnut Tree Hill while waiting to be sent back to Europe. Legend has it the Hessians quickly denuded the hill of many of its walnut trees for firewood, and Medford residents soon followed suit. In addition to the demands of Medford’s burgeoning ship industry, the walnut arbor soon disappeared completely.

In the mid−1800s the hill came into the hands of Charles Tufts and in 1852, the tree−barren land was donated to establish Tufts University. The students, staff and even a few townies set about sprucing up the hill (pun intended). To fund this endeavor, “pleas for gifts of trees were made in Universalist newspapers” and by the spring of 1858, about 300 trees had been planted. Slowly but surely, the campus changed from pastureland to the tree−dotted hill we know and love today.

The history of Tufts’ trees is so fascinating because it is dynamic and stretches into the present; the arboreal landscape rarely stays the same from one decade to the next. One of the more dramatic changes to our treescape occurred after a monster hurricane in September 1938 during which, according to the Tufts Weekly, we lost more than sixty trees to the storm.

But like a phoenix rising from the ashes, Tufts rallied to replace its towering friends. One aptly named Don Woods contributed an editorial to the Weekly to suggest that the funds could be raised if all students paid “a small tax on each ticket” for on−campus entertainment and shows, and that “each organization on [the] Hill [could] raise a sum to ... buy a tree to be replaced in its name.” Numerous alumni from the Class of 1915 banded together and donated the trees currently lining the President’s Lawn, and even the Arnold Arboretum in Boston donated some specimens at President Leonard Carmichael’s request.

What surprised me most about my research this week, however, was the fact that many “tree−butes” have preceded my humble effort. In a 1941 alumni magazine, one student penned a similar essay in which he stated, “[W]e cannot imagine the Hill without these trees. The time when this placid place was once a barren drumlin seems as remote as genesis, but someone must have foreseen the time when Tufts men and women would need and love the trees.”

It is an essential truth that Tufts students don’t simply want but need trees on campus. Since arriving at Tufts I don’t think I’ve gone more than a month without climbing my favorite pine trees near Braker to see an unobstructed view of the Boston skyline or scrambling up the dawn pine next to Goddard to see over the chapel roof. It just wouldn’t be Tufts without the kaleidoscope of autumn leaves, the summer shade and the sap that never seems to wash off my tree−climbing clothes.

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Alanna Tuller is a senior majoring in English. She can be reached at Alanna.Tuller@tufts.edu.

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